E. Ann Matter

title.none: Studies in Spirituality, vols. 1-2

identifier.other: baj9928.9405.008 94.05.08

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: E. Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Studies in Spirituality. Vol.1 (1991) Vol. 2 (1992). Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Titus Brandsma Instituut, 1991 1992.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.05.08

Studies in Spirituality. Vol.1 (1991) Vol. 2 (1992). Nijmegen, The Netherlands: Titus Brandsma Instituut, 1991 1992.

Reviewed by:

E. Ann Matter
University of Pennsylvania

The appearance of this new journal is full evidence of the growing importance of the field of spirituality in the understanding of Christian history. This journal is truly international: most of the contributors are from Europe (notably Nijmegen and Rome), but there are also essays by scholars in Algeria, India, and Israel. At the end of each article is a brief biography and mailing address of the author. The official languages of the journal are English, French, German, and Spanish.

The focus of the contributions is clearly on the Christian tradition since the late Middle Ages. In fact, the opening essay in the first volume, Otger Steggink's "Study in Spirituality in Retrospect: Shifts in Methodological Approach," (1:5-23) says right out on the opening page that spirituality and mysticism developed gradually in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and came into its own (or, as he puts it, "began to drift away from the rest of theological speculation" p. 5) only in the High Middle Ages. Since Steggink is one of three members of the Editorial Board (the others are Kees Waaijman and Hein Bloemenstijn) it seems reasonable to assume that this essay gives an operating definition of spirituality for the journal. My only criticism of the journal has to do with the limits of this definition, a subject to which I will return below.

The contents of the first two volumes reflect this definition: the first includes essays on Bonaventure, Eckhart, John of the Cross (in comparison to Muslim authors), Theophanus the Recluse, Paul Celan, the Virgin Mary, Jan van Leeuwen, and spiritual psychology (one essay on the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and one on integration and interiorization); the second begins with a methodological essay, "Mysticism from the Perspective of the Jewish-Christian Tradition" (2:5-50) by Kees Waaijman, and includes essays on Jacopone da Todi, John Ruusbroec, Denis the Carthusian, Ignatius of Loyola, Jeronimo Gracian, the Bible and liturgy, the discovery of America, Christian conversion, integration of personality, and the esoteric in Christianity. From this overview it seems obvious that Studies in Spirituality will focus on issues in the spirituality of Catholic Christianity from roughly 1250 to the present.

I think the boundaries of the inquiry into the spiritual life presented in these articles needs some critique. It is true, of course, that the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries constituted a period of great ferment in western Christianity, leading to both the secularism and the spirituality of the modern world. It is also true, as Steggink points out in the first article of the first volume, that the definition of mysticism we take as universal is an essentially modern creation. Yet, these parameters (especially the confessional and cultural boundaries) are also severely limiting, especially in a journal that really does strive for an international dimension. The problems are especially clear in the essays which have the most promise to be inclusive, such as the study of Henri Teissier (Archbishop of Algeria) on Ibn Arabi and John of the Cross (1:109-120), the essay of Henri Sanson, S.J. on John of the Cross and Islam (1: 121-133), or Anya Mali's "Patterns of Conversion in Christianity" (2:209-222), an article by an Israeli scholar focusing on the idea of conversion in seventeenth-century Catholic spirituality. Why not include essays on Islamic or Jewish mysticism, or, indeed, Protestant Christianity? Why not articles by Jewish and Muslim authors on Jewish and Islamic spirituality?

Such a broadening of focus would fit well with the expanded understanding of mysticism which has been forged in the past decade by the work of several North American scholars, notably Elizabeth Avilda Petroff, Caroline Walker Bynum, and Bernard McGinn. Petroff and Bynum have each made several contributions to the important role of women in the tradition of Christian spirituality. This perspective would be most welcome in Studies in Spirituality, since, out of 26 articles in the first two issues, only one, Christopher O'Donnell's "Mary as Prophet, Spiritual Teacher" (2:181-198) offers any reflection on the role of a female spiritual figure in the Christian tradition. Furthermore, these pages offer no reflection at all of Bernard McGinn's important synthesis of a tradition of Christian mysticism (the first volume, The Foundations of Mysticism, was published by Crossroads in 1992, three other volumes are in progress). Considering the vast amount of material currently being published on spirituality, mysticism, and visionary literature, it might be useful for the journal to include a section of reviews of new books on spirituality.

Studies in Spirituality is a very timely journal, and has made a promising start. It is to be profoundly hoped that the editors will resist the temptation to be stuck in parochialism and the limited definition of spirituality which these first issues reflect, but will instead broaden their study of spirituality across confessional, chronological, and gender boundaries.